Monday, April 12, 2010

Full Tilt: Poulsbo to Arizona with Three Kids and a Minivan

I'm reading a fantastic book entitled Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy. Traveling alone with her bicycle in the early 1960's, it's an amazing account of the myriad adventures she had along the way. I highly recommend it!
While not quite on par with her undertaking, our spring break trip was definitely jam packed with adventure. And yes, we drove, which we wanted to do because it allowed us to explore more places along the way, plus (the real reason) it's cheaper. Our, well, my goal (which everyone else, read-my husband, agreed sounded like a good plan), was to hit the coastal Redwood Forest, San Francisco, Disneyland, Santa Monica and Venice Beach, Grandma and Grandpa's in the greater Phoenix area, Las Vegas, then bee-line it home. Our goal was to do all of that with $1000. Yes, ambitious plans all around, but that's how we roll. My husband and kids mostly enjoy these activity packed adventures and probably wouldn't be surprised if I told them I had signed us all up for sky diving lessons along the way, so they know to ask lots of questions about what exactly I'm getting them into these days. Our time frame was 9 days, 10 if we needed it, but our hope was to be waking up in our own beds on Easter morning, which would have been the tenth day.

You probably noticed that Disneyland was on the list and are thinking, "Hmmm, just one day at the happiest place on earth is going to eat up about half their budget already." And you would be right, except.....except we jumped on the "Give a Day, Get a Day" bandwagon and volunteered at the local Habitat For Humanity in Bremerton, thus earning ourselves one day vouchers for the park. Also, I would like to note that I spent our usual weekly amount on groceries and packed them with us; I did not count this as an additional trip expense as we would have to eat whether at home or on the road. Our first two dinners were microwavable items that I had prepared in advance and frozen, knowing that we would have access to a microwave at the hotels we would be staying at. Lunches were sandwiches, etc. that we made daily out of the back of our van, using our cooler as a kitchen counter at rest stops, or making them in the a.m. before checking out of our hotel. As for the rest, here's how it played out:

Day #1 (Friday):
  • 12:30 p.m. Depart Poulsbo w/ full tank of gas ($55.00)
  • Stopped in Silverdale to pick up goodies from my Mom (Grandma Jane)
  • 1:30 p.m. Paid $4.00 toll at Tacoma Narrows Bridge
  • 6:00-ish Stopped at Oregon University Campus in Eugene to stretch our legs and check the famous Hayward Field (if you're a runner, you know)
  • Gassed up in Myrtle Creek, OR $49.00 Oh, yeah. They pump it for you in good ole' Orygun.
  • 8:30 p.m. Arrive @ La Quinta Inn, Grants Pass, OR $113.40/nt (Two queens plus a rollaway for our bonus child)
  • Kids swam in the indoor pool; adults soaked in hot tub, ahh....*I got the best rate by calling the hotel directly, whadaya know?
TOTAL MILES: 447     TOTAL COST DAY 1: $221.40

DAY #2 (Saturday): Redwood Highway
  • Breakfast at the hotel - waffles, cereal, fruit, muffins, juice, was a good spread and included with our stay; made sandwiches for the road.
  • 9:45 a.m. Stopped to hike the Stout Grove Trail in the Jedediah Smith Redwood National Park - A one mile out and back to a beautiful stand of old growth Redwoods near the Oregon/California border, just off the Redwood Highway. As we approached the quaint old covered bridge that leads to Howland Hill Road, we spotted runners registering for a race. Ralph Hirt of the Six Rivers Running Club was putting on a trail race that morning, with options of 15k or 5k. Oh, so tempting! But the race did not start until 11:00 a.m. and we were set on a short hike with the kids, then on to Crescent Beach to chase the waves and get our feet in the sand. So that is what we did.

Above: Sloan at Stout Grove; Family Photo, Stout Grove; Crescent Beach pit stop, above and right.

Time? Short detour off of Highway 101 to the Klamath Overlook. We hiked down the trail to the lower overlook (about 1 mile roundtrip). Grey whales and harbor seals were hanging about, on the beach (seals) and below the cliffs (whales). The California sun was out and despite the breeze off the ocean, we were feeling the heat on the hike back up to the car.
  • Veered off Hwy 101 onto the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway and stopped at the Big Tree Wayside
  • Kuchel Visitor Center - Interactive exhibits on marine life, Redwood Forest, Yurok Indian history and culture. Spent $4.00 on trinkets. "Okay, Mom, when are we going to be there?!"  "Be where, I ask, as our journey is our destination." I had a hard time explaining that idea to three kids tired of piling in and out of the car already!
  • Gas in Laytonville, CA (288 miles into our day) $53.82
  • 6:30 p.m. Arrive @ Embassy Suites, San Rafael, CA $129.10/nt for 1 bedroom suite (2 double beds + fold-out couch in living room)
  • Complimentary Happy Hour drinks and snacks for kids and adults, yeah! It pays to arrive before 7 p.m. at this hotel. :) Dinner was microwaved burritos in our room, however.
  • 9:00 p.m. Kids swim, adults soak in hot tub. It was a very busy pool, lots of kids....10:00 p.m. pool closes for kids. Yes, I would recommend this hotel.
TOTAL COST DAY 2: $186.92       MILES/DAY: 428.7 miles

Sloan at Kuchel Visitor Center near Orick, CA  

Covered bridge on Howland Hill Road (unpaved scenic byway). Runners are registering for the 2010 Redwood Wild River Run 15k and 5k.

Rainey, Mikhaela, Sloan and Shawn hiking up from the lower lookout at Klamath River Overlook near Requa, CA. We spotted a cluster of harbor seals nestled together down on the beach at the river's mouth with the aid of a volunteer ranger's scope, as well as brief glimpses of the grey whales hanging out below the cliffs as they surfaced to breath.

DAY #3 (Sunday): Sausalito and San Francisco
  • Complimentary all you can eat, made to order breakfast smorgasbord at the hotel. Yum.
  • Strolled through Sausalito and as cyclist after cyclist after groups of cyclists sped past I wished we were all doing the Blazing Saddles rental bike tour of the Bay Area that morning. Maybe next time.

The Sausalito Ferry is a foot ferry from Sausalito to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. It was tempting to hop on the boat and really get a chance to soak in the views, although the views of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge were amazing just from the shore in little Sausalito. The kids were most interested in Alcatraz though; being frequent ferry riders at home the ferry didn't seem to draw much interest from them. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to make it over for a tour of the mysterious prison from the past. It's incentive to spend more time in San Francisco again soon. After driving through the pretty neighborhoods and hills above Sausalito, we crossed the famed Golden Gate Bridge, only to realize that neither Shawn nor myself had the $6.00 cash needed to pay the toll! Mikhaela offered that she had some cash, but it was tucked away in her suitcase up in the rooftop carrier. Shawn put the car in park, scrambled out, unlocked the Yakima Carrier, fished Mikhaela's purse out of her suitcase, tossed it in to Mikhaela, who then produced the cash for the toll booth collector. The line behind us wasn't too long... My husband (almost) never carries cash, but I (almost) always do, so I guess it was my bad.
Anyway, we parked by the YMCA at the Presidio and enjoyed a lovely stroll from there, past the Monument to the Arts, down the boardwalk along the marina, through the park and Aquatic Park, then on to Fisherman's Wharf where we bought fish-n-chips for lunch ($40, and not even close to as good as Ivar's back home), plus some salt water taffy and a few souveniers for the kids ($20). It was a 5 1/2 mile jaunt by the time we got back to the car. Along the way we saw so many people running, cycling and swimming (triathletes wearing wetsuits in Aquatic Park) that my 11 year old daughter, Rainey, commented "Mom, it seems like everybody in San Francisco is into exercising!" Well, it was a particularly beautiful day, so everyone was out taking advantage of the sunshine and warm weather, so
it did seem to be the case.

We saw hundreds of cyclists in Sausalito and very few cars early Sunday morning.

Golden Gate Bridge (above)
Aquatic Park, San Francisco, CA (below)

Sloan enjoying fish and chips at Fisherman's Wharf (above left): Monument to the Arts (above right)

 After making it back to our car we drove through the Presidio, and followed part of the 49 Mile Scenic Drive as far as we could along the ocean beach side of San Fran, where Mikhaela kept pleading with us to let them out to play in the surf. People with surfboards were everywhere. By that time it was almost 3:30 in the afternoon and we still had to make it down to Anaheim, so after a loop through Golden Gate Park we managed to get headed out of town in the right direction, following Hwy 101 to Hwy 152 to I-5, stopping for gas in Jayne, CA ($57). We arrived finally at The Holiday Inn in Anaheim at 10:30 p.m. Needless to say we were a tired crew, but the promise of heading to Disneyland in the morning kept everyone's spirits up.

  • The Holiday Inn, Anaheim $124.00/night for 2 rooms adjoining (each with 2 dbl beds). I booked this before we left on Hotwire and it was a great deal. The hotel had an outdoor pool which we never had time to utilize, but it looked like an inviting place to hang out if we had been doing a multiple day park experience, like so many people do these days.  Having two bathrooms for two nights was a major bonus for the five of us, so I was glad I booked two rooms here. Everyone crawled right in to their respective beds and fell quickly to sleep that night, dreaming of castles and Mickey Mouse.
TOTAL COST DAY 3: $247.00      MILES/DAY: 457

DAY #4: Monday, Disneyland

We woke early, filled the backpack up with snacks, sandwiches, refillable water jug, sunscreen and hats, and headed out to Disneyland in our minivan. It wasn't far and we could have opted to take the shuttle or walk, but decided to save our legs for the park and liked the idea of having easy access to our car, so we drove. We arrived at the Chip n' Dale Parking Lot at 7:45 a.m. with vouchers in hand. The park opened up at 8:00 a.m.; we walked through the gates at 8:05 in morning and didn't walk back out until 10:30 that night.

It was a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be, I'll say that. I had a temporary set back in mood after losing my favorite hat and brand new Smith Pivlock sunglasses on Splash Mountain; it didn't help that I was completely soaked and received zero sympathy from the ride attendant. Oh well, move on Michelle, they're just glasses. The fireworks with Tinkerbell flying over the castle really capped off the magical feeling of the day.

Rainey in Toon Town

 Shawn and Sloan on It's A Small World

Mikhaela and Rainey exiting Mr. Toad's Wild Ride - our first ride of the day, and Rainey's favorite.

Got to pose with Goofy! 

I got to participate in an impromptu jam session (moonlighting as a drummer) inside Innoventions

  • Batteries for Camera $13.00
  • 1 latte, 2 smoothies, 1 soda $16.00 (We refilled our large water bottle at the fountains all day and by the end of the day I'd say that that one sports bottle was worth at least $60!)
  • Cotton Candy $3.50
  • Parking $14.00
  • Souveniers $50.00
  • Mexican Dinner in Frontierland $49.00
  • Holiday Inn Anaheim $124.00
TOTAL COST DAY 4: $269.50       MILES/DAY: 9

DAY #5: Tuesday, Huntington Beach and Arizona

We had breakfast at the Holiday Inn, where kids eat free, then headed to Huntington Beach, a.k.a. "Surf City", to soak up a different aspect of Southern California living. While the kids dug in the sand and Shawn went for a short run down toward the pier, I dipped my feet in the waves and was surprised by a pod of porpoise (dolphins?) right in front of me. I watched them make their way up the beach past the few kids out surfing that morning and up toward the pier. We could have stayed here the whole day, but were determined to get to my Dad's place by dinner time so Shawn whipped together some sandwiches after his run and we headed off to Arizona.

Our travel time to my parents' place in Sun City West was about six hours and except for the fact that our air conditioning was out of commission, the ride was pleasant, and a great ham dinner was awaiting us upon arrival.

Mikhaela, Huntington Beach, CA

Breakfast @ Holiday Inn $22.00 Parking @ Huntington Beach $15.00 Gas near Palm Springs, CA $47.00 Coffee $1.00   TOTAL COST DAY 5: $85.00       MILES/DAY: 393

DAY #6 (Wednesday): Grandma and Grandpa's, AZ
My sister Susan had flown down to visit, and my Grandma Cox (my Dad's mom) had come over from Scottsdale to visit while we were there as well, so it was a full house. My Dad and I headed out for a bike ride with his riding group in the morning; Susan and Shawn drove out to the White Tank Regional Park for a trail run and the kids stayed with Grandma Lynn and Great Grandma Cox to enjoy the pool in the backyard. Sloan picked fruit from Gr. and Gr.'s lemon, orange and grapefruit trees and made fresh juice with grandma. There was a dove with two eggs in her nest in one of the trees, so we were careful to tread quietly around it.

Cost for Day: $6.00 park entrance fee @ White Tank

Enjoying their own personal pool, working on puzzles with Grandma Lynn, and baking occupied the kids for the two days we were visiting

Great Grandma Cox (age 92) with Sloan (age 9)

Sloan juicing grapefruit with Grandma Lynn

DAY #7(Thursday): Grandma and Grandpa's, AZ

  • White Tank Mountain Regional Park - Ran for two hours with Susan and Shawn on the trails there. We saw a rattlesnake, but luckily it was on the road while we were driving, and it was dead. We all forgot our cameras and found out just how crappy the pictures taken with our cell phones are. Bummer. It's a beautiful park, with saguaro cactus in abundance.

  • World Wildlife Zoo and Aquarium- Shawn, Susan, Sloan and myself  ($60)

  • Gas in Sun City West, AZ $53.06
TOTAL COST DAY 7: $102.06             MILES/DAY 6 and 7: 119

Aunt Susan and Sloan make like flamingos

Sloan feeds the 3 and 4 year old giraffes

DAY #8 (Friday): Homeward Bound

  • Hoover Dam - Wow. The dam, the Colorado River, the sculptures. The new bridge is almost done too.

  • Las Vegas - Costco for lunch $15/Gas $34

  • Walked down Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip) - It's definitely not like Disneyland. The kids didn't like it and wanted to get out of town. They just didn't know what to make of the whole place and sights such as the replica of the statue of David at Caesars Palace and the amazing siren that graces the ship at Treasure Island elicited comments like, "Ew" and "Gross". I had a crazy urge to get (re)married in one of the chapels, with our kids as attendants. Maybe if we had stayed the night we could have pulled it off. Ah, well, it was fun thinking about it anyway.

  • Gas in Ely, NV $30 The towns on our path through Nevada were few and far between so we filled up our tank whenever we got the chance, just in case.

  • After leaving Ely, night fell, and a snowstorm swooped down on us, so it was a bit of a nail biter gettting to Wells on the two lane highway. I happened to be the driver at that point and the snowglobe affect made me a bit dizzy, but there was nowhere to pull over, as there was no shoulder to speak of, and for all we knew it was going to snow all night, so my only choice was to keep driving. At one point my son asked, "Mom, how can you see where you are going?!" I really didn't have a good answer for him. I tried to keep the tail lights of the car in front of me within sight, which helped but required me to travel at about 40 mph, which made my husband very nervous in the passenger seat. Needless to say, we were all relieved to arrive at the motel in Wells where, aside from the sticky rug, disgusting couch and holes in the sheets, we had a clean room. And anyhow, it was better than sleeping in the van on the roadside in the middle of an April snowstorm. 

  • Rest Inn Suites Motel, Wells, NV $68.15 (2 queens +rollaway)

  •  Indignant quote of the day:  "Mom, these sheets have holes from cigarettes in them!" - Mikhaela, 13

TOTAL COST DAY 8: $146.67         MILES/DAY: 660
Hoover Dam and the nearly completed bridge above

Rainey and Mikhaela get mock kisses from a street artist in Vegas
    Venezio, Las Vegas, Nevada
    DAY 9 (Saturday): Home through the Snow: Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington
  • We awoke to about 3 inches of snow, our van frozen shut and a "Continental Breakfast" consisting of miniature muffins (bran or blueberry) and coffee. I started off driving again, encountering compact snow and ice on the highway through Jackpot, NV.  The sun was out and the surrounding countryside was freshly dusted with snow.  On the downside, the windshield cleaner was frozen and so I had no way to clean the muddy sludge that every passing car and truck spewed onto our windshield. We stopped once and Windexed the window off, but it was soon coated with grime again and so I had to get creative in order to see through the windshield. I found that if I timed my windshield wipers to go off just as a large truck passed (and blasted us with muddy slush) then I could get the window fairly clean and as long as I turned them off after only two or three swipes the window wouldn't get smeared with dirt again, at least for a stretch. Shawn refilled the cleaner fluid in Jackpot when we stopped for gas, and after another 20 miles or so it finally defrosted and I could enjoy the beautiful snowy fields and mountains all around us. Hooray! We had snow all the way through Idaho and in Oregon as far as Pendleton.
  • Gas in Jackpot, NV $27 +windshield cleaner (their most popular item that morning) $3.29
  • Stopped at a rest stop in Ontario, Oregon to stretch our legs and make sandwiches for lunch
  • Gas in Pendleton, OR $51.22
  • Rest Stop near Cle Ellum, WA for bathroom break and to make sandwiches (not again, Mom!) for our dinner. We had lots of other good snacks along with us, too. We each had a reusable sports bottle that we filled each day at hotels and rest stops, plus some juice boxes and such.
  • 9:00 p.m. Ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island $35.41
  • Home!!!!! at 10:00 p.m.
  • The next day I noticed my 11 year old daughter, Rainey, had written this on the white board in her room:
Hola! (Ha Ha)
San Fran!
I'm home. And I'm tired.

TOTAL COST DAY #9: $117.13     TOTAL MILES/DAY: 810

Okay, we went over our $1,000 budget, but overall we did pretty well for 5 people over a busy nine days. Our total damage for the trip was $1411.68 and it was worth every penny. Our total miles covered were 3,324 miles. Now that is what I call a road trip. And although it was tiring, my mind is already wandering to another family adventure. We've never been to Alaska. Hmmm....


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